A Christchurch man has been awarded almost $30,000 in compensation after he was sacked for sharing details of his salary with a co-worker.

The Employment Relations Authority (ERA) ruled James Luhrs, a salesperson for residential design and building company Whitehouse Builders, had been unjustifiably dismissed by his former employer.

During evidence, the authority heard how Luhrs and his co-worker, Mr Rose, had been venting to each other during drinks one night, when Luhrs told Rose that he had had his salary reduced from $50,000 to $40,000 to be in line with other staff.

Upset that Luhrs had initially been earning more money than he did, Rose allegedly resigned the next morning shortly after a heated meeting with their boss, Robert Whitehouse, the authority heard.


Luhrs told the authority he was then called into the office by Whitehouse to explain what had been said between he and Rose during drinks, to which Luhrs replied "well, he was venting and so was I".

Luhrs alleges Whitehouse told him "you have caused all kinds of problems … that's it, we're done".

Luhrs told the authority he responded by asking "define done", and that Whitehouse had replied "you're gone".

He alleges he was then ushered to his desk and told to give up his time sheet and his SIM card, something he believed meant he was being fired.

According to Whitehouse's evidence of the alleged dismissal, Whitehouse was very angry and upset that Luhrs had broken confidence regarding his pay arrangements and sought explanation as to why Luhrs had shared that information.

Whitehouse told the authority that he needed to create some space to cool off and allegedly said to Luhrs "I can't deal with this right now, you need to go, and we will deal with it later".

The authority heard from Whitehouse that Luhrs left the office but came back a couple of minutes later and Whitehouse had said to him "we are done here".

According to Whitehouse, when Luhrs asked "define done", Whitehouse alleges he replied "I thought you had gone, just go".


The following day, October 5, Luhrs said he missed a call from Whitehouse and then received a text from him offering another chance to explain his actions, the authority heard.

Luhrs told the authority he didn't want to answer at the time as he know it was going to be confrontational, so emailed Whitehouse on October 10 saying "… Since my employment was unexpectedly terminated I didn't get an opportunity to tie up any loose ends with clients and I don't want my clients to feel I have let them down."

During cross examination, Whitehouse initially said that he believed that the letter indicated that Luhrs had resigned, but later conceded that the letter could only signal one of two things; either Luhrs believed himself to have been dismissed or he was confused.

Whitehouse admitted he did not chase up a reply to his text of October 5, and he did not reply to Luhrs' letter of October 10, saying in evidence that he had been very busy.

In its ruling, the authority said on balance it preferred the evidence of Luhrs in respect to the events of October 4, the day Luhrs alleged he was dismissed.

The authority said even if Whitehouse did not intend to dismiss Luhrs, Whitehouse did nothing in the authority's opinion to disabuse Luhrs of his misunderstanding that he had been sacked, and therefore his silence would have misled Luhrs into thinking he had been dismissed.

The authority therefore concluded Luhrs dismissal was unjustified and unfair and any reasonable employer could have dismissed Luhrs in the manner in which he did, in all the circumstances.

As a result, Whitehouse Builders were ordered to pay Luhrs $10,500 compensation for the unfair dismissal.

Luhrs received a further $17,607 compensation for unjustified disadvantage caused by the reduction of his salary.